Xcom: Chimera Squad – A Perfect Slice of Turn-Based Strategy
The joy of Xcom, for those of us with the bug, is that wonderful moment where all of your strategies comes together in a satisfying blast of alien destroying crossfire. It is a moment of bliss where the hard work, missed shots and lost comrades are all worth it for that perfectly executed manoeuvre. So what if, by some stroke of development genius that these moments were the entire focus of the game? What if, the Xcom formula was distilled into a tighter, faster and more approachable package? What if all those aliens you have been shooting for years were now on your side? Welcome to Xcom: Chimera Squad.
Now it is no secret that I am a fan of Xcom. So to get the double surprise of Xcom: Chimera Squad’s announcement last week and then finding a review key in my inbox that very day, well I was more than excited, to say the least. But I started to have doubts. How can a game that was announced two weeks before release, that is being sold for a fraction of a full game’s cost be any good? Was this a rushed product just to scam some money out of punters? The answer is, not only is the game good, it is perhaps one of the best pure strategy experiences money can buy.
Xcom: Chimera Squad is at once more approachable than previous Xcom games, yet more than deep enough to satisfy season veterans. To achieve this Firaxis has made some changes to the core formula, changes that make the game much more welcoming, yet still than scratch that Xcom itch. This is primarily due to the game’s quite fascinating story. Set five years after the events of Xcom 2, the world has changed with Humans, Aliens and Hybrids all living together in comparative harmony. Free from the influence of the nasty overlords, life seems to be settling into normalcy, with all the races living side by side in one big city, the setting for the game. The game starts off with the assassination of the Mayor of the city, so with three terrorist groups the most likely suspects, it is up to Chimera Squad to investigate each and solve the murder.
This smaller, more contained setting may seem like a step back from Xcom 2, but in many ways, it is actually a step forward. The metagame here makes much more sense, yet still retains the things that made Xcom 2 great. There are nine districts in the city, each with a meter that measures the level of unrest currently present. If any of these meters fill, the entire city raises its threat level as the population goes from placid to chaotic, adding difficulty to the game in the process. Completing missions and investigations, as well as certain special abilities, reduces these meters and it is crucial that the correct choices are made when choosing which mission to tackle on any given in-game day.
Missions are set up differently to previous Xcom titles. You take a team of four agents into battle, each of which is broken up into multiple engagements. At the beginning of each engagement is the wonderful “Breach Mode” in which you get to make strategic choices as to how you want to start the battle. With multiple spots to breach, do you bring your entire team through as one or spread them out? Do you surprise an enemy by blowing down a wall at the cost of being unable to move for one turn? Do you rush for cover without taking a shot or start shooting as soon as you rush the breach? All of these things and many more, need to be considered before the game switches to the classic Xcom turn-based formula.
But this leads me to what is perhaps the biggest change, the units. Instead of the generic, customisable units of past games, Chimera squad features a limited number of “hero” units. Each of these units has a personality and special abilities that are unique from other team members. One unit can hack mech units, forcing them to battle on your side, another alien unit can stun enemies with their mind, leaving them sitting ducks for a shotgun blast to face. Perhaps my favourite unit is one of the Snake aliens from Xcom 2 and her ability to grab enemies and crush them not only does great damage but takes a unit out of play. Strategies in this game depend very much on which units you take into battle. These units can be used to speed up research, trained with new abilities and investigate bonus missions while not on a mission, making them useful even when they are sitting on the bench. As there are limited units, if they die in-game, it is mission over. However you have three turns to stabilise them and at the end of the encounter, they will be whisked away to safety and replaced with a handy android which doesn’t have any special abilities but fills the role of an extra gun. Any units that have been saved from death carry scars which reduce their stats. These scars can be treated at home base over a few days, but while that is happening they are out of action. I thought I would miss naming my units after my family and friends, slowly sending them all to their messy and gory deaths, but I have to say I didn’t. Each of the units available here are unique, entertaining and chock full of personality, so I soon forgot about the lack of customisation.
The game comes with all the difficulty options that Xcom veterans expect. Things like Ironman mode are present meaning there is plenty of challenge for those that seek it, but at the same time, there are options that make things more welcoming to those just finding their feet. Options like half or full healing between engagements make this the best entryway into the genre I have ever seen and that includes the well-loved Mario + Rabbids. If you have ever thought about dabbling in the genre, this is the place to start but I stress that old heads like myself will find more than enough to love. The whole game runs from 15 – 20 hours depending on your settings and there is plenty of reason to start all over again when you are done.
In recent times there have been quite a few entries in the genre. Games like Mutant Year Zero and Phoenix Point have launched and while they have all been good games with their own unique spins, Chimera Squad proves that Firaxis are still the masters. This is a cheap, main series spinoff that is better than every other game in the genre excepting possibly Firaxis’ own Xcom 2 and even that is debatable. There is nothing about this game that I don’t adore and I have no doubt that this will feature in my GOTY picks when this hell year finally ends. If this is what the team at Firaxis can do with a quick spinoff title, I can’t wait to get my hands on the inevitable Xcom 3.
Xcom: Chimera Squad was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by 2K Australia
Dad, Gamer, Writer, Husband all rolled into one big ball of random matter.
Editor of Player 2, Matt spends his time yelling at strangers as they walk past, imploring them to visit Player 2. Sadly this tactic hasn’t yielded any significant results but he keeps on trying regardless.
Writes on Ngunnawal land.